in Performance Critiques, Sound, Uncategorized

OLIVEROS + THIRLWELL with kulintang in between – 6/23/13

Dear Lauren,

So, you missed JG Thirlwell live with the Manorexia Ensemble. As my wedding gift to you, I will give you a brief report of how it went.

Everyone was excited in the beginning. There was a weird mix of people, large collections of faces who didn’t seem to recognize any of the other faces. It was a gathering of the tribes in the lobby.

Pauline Oliveros began the concert with a solo improvisation called Along the Way on her shiny red Roland V accordion. According to Oliveros’ artist page on River to River:

The performance combines the different voices of the V-Accordion with the composer’s own Expanded Instrument System (EIS), a system that provides musicians and composers with a challenging improvisational environment for exploration of interactions with technology. EIS will act as a “time machine” where players provide the present moment of sounding that technology will feedback in the future either in replica or with modifications. The feedback will become part of the present, thus the player is performing in the past, present, and future, simultaneously. Sounds of the past, present, and future are spatialized through a multi-channel array of speakers so that space is expanded in a similar manner with time.

How sounds were coming from the future, I have no idea! I remember Maryanne Amacher telling me more than once that “Fred Hoyle has proved that we get information from the future all the time,” but I never got an explanation of what that meant. Pauline has never mentioned Fred Hoyle to me, but she is enthusiastic about the work of the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton, where they pore over the results of random-number generators to find subtle patterns. I’m sure someone there can probably demonstrate how chance operations are actually embracing information from the future.

The element of feedback and structure across time might have necessitated the long duration of the performance. Or something just didn’t work? The information from the future wasn’t coming in? Or the feedback-spatialization couldn’t be set up in the Schimmel auditorium for this performance? The printed event program, I noticed, made no mention of feedback and wrote rather that the “the performance will use the different physically modeled voices of the Roland V-Accordion in a continually changing array.” And that is just what we saw and heard. A pioneering composer of 20th century music, sitting on a stage, playing a bunch of funny voices out of an accordion, and then switching to a different set of funny voices. The piece took half-an-hour to switch between at least eight “arrays” of voices and never really moved beyond “gee-whiz, look what this accordion can do!?”

Since statements such as “I love you”” or “Gee Whiz!” are best said in 2minutes and 42seconds, the piece was about 15x longer than it could have been. Nevertheless, the performance received a standing ovation from a large segment of the audience. Some of those standing may have been genuinely moved, while others might have felt that a standing ovation is the only appropriate reception for a solo performance by an 80-year old woman. Whatever the sentiment, it was not unanimous, so things went awry. The diverse tribes gathered together immediately disband as the standing ovation provoked some ire and disgust from the fringes of the room.

From where I was sitting, a gang of Russians who had been doing their best to politely nod off during Pauline’s performance stared at each other in shock and disbelief when someone near us stood up with her applause. One stood up with a loud and silent thumbs down, and another stood with an actually audible boo. Then louder applauders stood up to drown out the booing. The whole thing reminded me of the partisan responses to a Presidential State of the Union address, or to a claquer scene from Balzac’s Lost Illusions, in which things go horribly wrong for Monsieur Braulard.

Etienne and Lucien reached a handsome house in the Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple.

“Is M. Braulard in?” Etienne asked of the porter.

“Monsieur?” said Lucien. “Is the leader of the claque ‘Monsieur’?”

“My dear boy, Braulard has twenty thousand francs of income. All the dramatic authors of the Boulevards are in his clutches, and have a standing account with him as if he were a banker. Orders and complimentary tickets are sold here. Braulard knows where to get rid of such merchandise. Now for a turn at statistics, a useful science enough in its way. At the rate of fifty complimentary tickets every evening for each theatre, you have two hundred and fifty tickets daily. Suppose, taking one with another, that they are worth a couple of francs apiece, Braulard pays a hundred and twenty-five francs daily for them, and takes his chance of making cent per cent. In this way authors’ tickets alone bring him in about four thousand francs every month, or forty-eight thousand francs per annum. Allow twenty thousand francs for loss, for he cannot always place all his tickets—-“

“Why not?”

“Oh! the people who pay at the door go in with the holders of complimentary tickets for unreserved seats, and the theatre reserves the right of admitting those who pay. There are fine warm evenings to be reckoned with besides, and poor plays. Braulard makes, perhaps, thirty thousand francs every year in this way, and he has his _claqueurs_ besides, another industry. Florine and Coralie pay tribute to him; if they did not, there would be no applause when they come on or go off.”

Lousteau gave this explanation in a low voice as they went up the stair.

“Paris is a queer place,” said Lucien; it seemed to him that he saw self-interest squatting in every corner.

A smart maid-servant opened the door. At the sight of Etienne Lousteau, the dealer in orders and tickets rose from a sturdy chair before a large cylinder desk, and Lucien beheld the leader of the claque, Braulard himself, dressed in a gray molleton jacket, footed trousers, and red slippers; for all the world like a doctor or a solicitor. He was a typical self-made man, Lucien thought–a vulgar-looking face with a pair of exceedingly cunning gray eyes, hands made for hired applause, a complexion over which hard living had passed like rain over a roof, grizzled hair, and a somewhat husky voice.

“You have come from Mlle. Florine, no doubt, sir, and this gentleman for Mlle. Coralie,” said Braulard; “I know you very well by sight. Don’t trouble yourself, sir,” he continued, addressing Lucien; “I am buying the Gymnase connection, I will look after your lady, and I will give her notice of any tricks they may try to play on her.”

“That is not an offer to be refused, my dear Braulard, but we have come about the press orders for the Boulevard theatres–I as editor, and this gentleman as dramatic critic.”

Alas, avant-garde and electronic music (at least in the United States) has no Monsieur Braulards to hire. If such men exist (which they certainly must, still) they are much busier dealing with Broadway theaters and packing the audiences of American Idol, The Voice and their various spin-offs. Or they have shifted their focus from generating applause into generating hype. The pre-performance buzz generated by armies of publicists that has replaced the post-performance review. (You have seen how impossible it has been for us to generate any reviews for Sound Off! We couldn’t even get a review for a New York performance by the winner of this year’s Prix Ars Electronica!) Like the “comments” on newsfeed that have eclipsed Editorial Letters, the applause is all we’ve got left. And we give it all we got.

It was simultanously disheartening and invigorating to witness such opposing expressions from the audience. Nevertheless, it demonstrated that we were all individuals again, or at best couples or bands, but that as tribes we would not be gathered–at least not in the course of two hours. (It might take a multi-day festival, a few sunrises and sunsets, to do that.)

Susie Ibarra, Roberto Juan Rodriquez and David Baron (Electric Kulintang) took the stage for “the premiere of 12 compositions created for a mobile app soundwalk” called Digital Sanctuaries. I can’t tell you much about this one, Lauren, because I joined the exodus from the theater at this surreal moment where there appeared to be two middle aged Americans banging drums and another one standing near a modular synthesizer while a Wizard Of Oz Voice From Africa boomed from speakers overhead. Some individuals, myself included, facing that spectacle asked “What am I doing here?”  And, if the answer was “Waiting for JG Thirlwell” then, you jumped ship.

In the lobby, I found Lary 7 and Abby Echiverri and many other ship jumpers, and the tribe reconvened. Someone pointed out that the Wizard of Oz was Famoro Diobate, the master of the balafone, who I shall introduce here in place of an intermission.

I N T E R M I S S I O N and change of scenes and change of crowds… And in the lobby I wondered why they didn’t advertise this event as two concerts? I wondered who had the idea to try to combine these audiences, who weren’t mixing together too well? The lights flickered and we returned to the auditorium. The rowdy Russians behind me had set up their Xoom on a little tripod, and JG Thirlwell was treated to a rock-star applause as he approached the stage.

And then the Manorexia ensemble: Peter Wise – percussion, Dave Broome – piano, Elena Moon Park – violin, Leyna Marika Papach – violin, Karen Waltuch – viola, Isabel Castelvi – cello, JG Thirlwell – laptop. (I note their names here since they weren’t listed in the program.) The ensemble approached and took their positions. The same arrangement as you will find in this video from the Netherlands last year. Mr. Wise’s multi-percussionist set up was right out a classic television music studio.

The performance at Schimmel was much larger than this Dutch video. “Larger than life” in a self-satirizing way. The action and melodrama of the Venture Brothers music was there, as well as periods with very long tones–the logic of synthesizer composition translated to instruments. The percussionist revealed how the glassy sounds of science fiction worlds are generated. JG stood in the back of the stage playing samples or synths, rather than conducting from the front — a performer with the rest of the ensemble.

This performance of Dinoflagellate Blooms was completely unlike hearing the recorded version! It was truly a live event! It wasn’t quite as grand as the Venture Brothers Medley at Prospect Park two years ago, since this arrangement had no brass section. (JG played the brass parts from his computer.) And the overloaded crazy string parts could only get so overloaded with only four strings. But you felt the energy, saw their bows fray before your eyes.

I’m sad you couldn’t be there… I hope the members of the Manorexia Ensemble come for the July 11th screening. I wonder how the recording will feel in their ears. I’ll ask them. And tell you.

Come back to Brooklyn soon!



ps: what’s going on with your tumblr?

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